Josh Howard

Hikers find missing student's body in woods
By Sheila Toomey, ADN 10/27/92

The posters can come down now.

They found Josh Howard dead in the woods about two miles past the old Stuckagain Heights restaurant.

Two hard-core hikers climbing with three dogs toward Knoya Peak in the Chugach foothills spotted Howard about 4:40 p.m. in the north fork of the Campbell Creek drainage.  He lay on his back - "as if he had slipped" - about 3500 vertical feet from the crest of a hill with a beautiful view of Anchorage, said Richard Baranow, a medical technician and one of the hikers.

Baranow noticed the body about 20 feet off the trail when the dogs gathered around it.  From the position of the body, Baranow speculated that Howard was heading back down the hill when he fell.

"Who knows why he died," Baranow said Monday after Howard was officially identified through a fingerprint comparison.

"I've seen a lot of dead bodies . . . I do a lot of climbing.  If I would ever have to die, that's the kind of place I would like to die in.  Much better than a hospital bed."

Baranow thought he recognized Howard from the posters family and friends have tacked to most every bulletin board in town.  The body also wore a gold bracelet inscribed "W.A. Howard."  So Baranow and his companion hiked back to their car, parked on the Stuckagain Heights road and drove to the University of Alaska Anchorage where he checked one of the posters to confirm his suspicion and reported the find to Anchorage police.

An Alaska State Troopers helicopter landed in the broken meadow Monday morning and lifted out the body after investigators searched and videotaped the scene, AST Investigator Darlene Turner said.

The body was fully dressed, according to Investigator Ron Emmons, head of missing persons for the Anchorage Police Department.  There were no signs of violence, no note, no new clue why Howard took his last walk or if he knew he would not be coming back.

Although he appears to have succumbed to hypothermia, the actual cause of death must await autopsy results, including tests for the presence of drugs or alcohol, Emmons said.

Pathologist Donald Rogers expects the body to be thawed enough for an autopsy today, but said test results won't be available for at least three days.

Howard, 19, vanished on a Friday afternoon after several days of delusional behavior, according to friends who saw him that week.  He was hearing and seeing things others didn't and said at least once that he was God, that he wanted to be one with nature.

Two different sets of people tried to get Howard into a hospital on Thursday, the day before he disappeared, but each time he backed off, preferring to go home.  On Friday, according to his stepfather, Mike Jacober, Howard seemed normal after a good night's sleep.  Jacober dropped him off at UAA at about 2:30 p.m. on Friday.  Howard was a freshman drama student and had left his car there the previous evening.

About 3 p.m. the same day, someone reportedly noticed Howard's car parked at the Totem Theater, but Howard never showed up.  Many sightings of Howard were reported to police over the intervening month, but Emmons said the only reliable trail ended at the parking lot.

Howard could easily have walked from Muldoon to where he was found, Baranow said.  An access trail starts behind the theater and joins an established trail up the north fork canyon.

Howard was widely known in the community from his occasional TV acting jobs and as a popular tennis teacher.  He graduated from Diamond High School last year.

John Hendrickson, who knew Howard through tennis and helped with efforts to locate the missing youth, called his death extremely painful.  Hendrickson said he hopes it helps people learn to "pay close attention to family or friends when they change their behavior . . . and to have the courage to do something, no matter how difficult it is."